PUNE: It was at a friend’s beach party — Vishal Misra and Arvind Krishna were trying to (unsuccessfully it turned out) retrieve a kite belonging to Misra’s son that was stuck on a treetop.
Misra, professor in the department of computer science at the University of Columbia, remembers this incident with the newly appointed IBM CEO vividly. Misra had first met Krishna when trying to decide between a stint in academia and a career at IBM. “We’ve known each other socially for 20 years,” Misra told ET. “What I remember from our encounter back in 2001— when I was trying to decide between Columbia and IBM — was that he sincerely wished me luck and did not badmouth Columbia or life in academia,” Misra, who recalls Krishna as a warm, friendly guy, said.
Krishna, who takes over from Virginia (Ginni) Rometty on April 6, is currently Senior Vice President for Cloud and Cognitive Software at IBM, which includes IBM Research, IBM Cloud, and IBM’s Security and Cognitive Applications businesses.
The 57-year-old electrical engineering alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology – Kanpur was born in Dehradun to Major General Vijay Krishna and Arti Krishna, who worked for the welfare of Army widows. Like most army kids, Krishna — a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign — went to more than one school — primary education at Mount St. Mary’s School in Delhi to Stanes Higher Secondary School in Coonoor in Tamil Nadu.
“Unlike many fresh PhD’s who are technically smart but lack business and industry acumen, he showed his deep understanding of industry trends. That has been Arvind’s distinguishing talent — to combine deep technical understanding with an encyclopaediac knowledge of industry and competition,” said Inder Gopal, professor at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who hired Krishna into IBM Research.
Gopal recalls that Krishna —who is married to Sonia Jain and has two children — came highly recommended by his PhD advisor Bruce Hajek. “Everything he does has a well-articulated technical or business basis. I may not always have agreed, but I respected his judgement and he was usually right,” Gopal, who quit IBM but later rejoined as Krishna’s boss, said
Krishna was always meticulous and focused, said Sunil Singhal, his first cousin — also an IIT-Kanpur alumnus and who runs an environment focused business in Delhi.
“His father was in the Corps of Signals and continued to be involved with engineering institutes after his retirement. So, Arvind has got some of that in his genes,” Singhal said, adding his hard work was paying off.
IIT-Bhilai director Rajat Moona, who was Krishna’s batchmate, told ET that he was creative and organised. “We never thought that we will be so close to the top of the world’s best hardware and software industry. Proud of him and feel fortunate to know him,” Moona said.
Persistent Systems Chairman Anand Deshpande, who has known him for two decades, said Krishna understands technology very well. “He’s very sharp and focused and in our meetings was always clear about what he wanted. IBM will do well to have him there,” Deshpande said.
Another batchmate, Nagendra Nath Sinha, who is currently Secretary, Department of Border Management, summed it up best in a tweet congratulating the three-decade-old IBM veteran. ‘Congratulations @ArvindKrishna on being named CEO of IBM. It is another feather in your cap. We are proud to have been your batchmates at IIT Kanpur.’